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EDITORIAL: From Russia Without Love

Ireland and Russia are not on each other's buddy list of late.

Fortunately for Russia, Ireland is not a military superpower. Fortunately for Ireland, Russia is a long way away. 

Unless of course Russian navy ships start looming over the horizon, or Russian bombers start nudging up against undefended Irish airspace.

Or, at the United Nations, Russia steals Ireland's thunder on the Security Council by acting the ignoramus.

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Last month, Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, expressed disappointment over the outcome of a vote on the first-ever UN Security Council Resolution on Climate and Security. 

Ireland is currently a two-year rotating member of the Security Council and crafted the resolution along with the African nation Niger.

The resolution was vetoed by Russia, a permanent member of the council.

"We regret the decision of Russia to use its veto to block the adoption of this ground-breaking resolution. We believed the weight of evidence and clarity of argument would bring the Council to consensus. However, despite months of consultations, and the strong support of the majority of UN Member States, this was sadly not the case," said Coveney at the time.

"The Resolution sought to consolidate the climate and security agenda within the Council’s program of work. Its adoption would have been an important first step in establishing a strengthened framework for future action.

"Ireland and Niger, who jointly lead the Expert Group on Climate and Security, guided the extensive consultations on this text for over two months, securing the support of 12 Council Members. We also secured the support of 113 UN Member States, who signed up as co-sponsors.

"Unfortunately, however Russia - a permanent Council member - voted against the Resolution, along with one elected member - India. Although this is disappointing, the process confirms that the majority of UN member states believe the Council should factor the security risks of climate change into its decision-making."

Move on a few weeks, to the last and this to be precise. With Russia having raised the hackles of Ireland once again with its plans to hold naval war exercises in the Atlantic, and in waters that are part of Ireland's Exclusive Economic Zone, Coveney once again had to reach into his rhetorical arsenal to voice Ireland's displeasure with Russia's latest example of 19th century-style adventurism.

Luckily for Coveney he had backup. Not from Ireland's defense forces. Though well trained and certainly not lacking in courage and fortitude they are simply no match in raw strength for Vladimir Putin's sea, air and land legions.

No, it was the fishermen of Ireland's south coast who pledged to put to sea and face off the Russian armada. The Russians decided to play nice and move their war games out of the EEZ. The story of the Irish fishing boats had gone worldwide. The Russians were big bully Goliath facing plucky David and the world was cheering on David; hence the strategic retreat to another portion of the Atlantic where the descendants of Peter the Great will doubtless blaze away at enemies, real and imagined.

But back to the UN. On Monday of this week the Security Council discussed Ukraine, a country that lacks the kind of reassuring distance from Russia that Ireland enjoys.

The Security Council room is big enough, but not so big that the Russian ambassador would be able to avoid the scornful words - and if a tweeted photo is anything to go by, withering stare - of Irish ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason.

Of the Russian threat hanging over Ukraine the Irish mission had this to say in a tweet: "Today at the #SecurityCouncil, Ireland will reiterate its unwavering support for Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Ireland supports #Ukraine’s right to pursue its own foreign & defence policy without external interference."

And Ambassador Byrne Nason had this to say: “Earlier this month, Ireland marked 100 years of a hard-won independence. Just as we would not accept another state determining our foreign and security policy, #Ukraine similarly has the sovereign right to choose its own policies.” 

All this tension between Dublin and Moscow is not entirely a 2021-22 thing. 

Back in 2018 Ireland expelled a Russian diplomat in response to the poisoning of an exchanged Russian spy and his daughter in England. The Russians responded by expelling an Irish diplomat from Moscow.

The Irish response?

“There is no justification for the expulsion of an Irish diplomat from Russia. Irish Embassy staff do not engage in activities which are incompatible with their diplomatic status, nor has Ireland acted improperly. The decision to expel an Irish diplomat is regrettable,” said an Irish government statement at the time.

Ireland had rowed in behind the UK, U.S., a range of European Union countries, and some non-EU members after the poison attack in Salisbury which has been widely linked to Moscow, which bears something of an odious record when it comes to dispatching alleged enemies of the state living in exile, or indeed on Mother Russia's home soil.

Suffice it to say, all has not been warm and fuzzy between Dublin and Moscow in the intervening years. And it sure isn't a bed of red roses this week. 

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